Fur & Feathers: Natural Chicken Keeping

An Interview with Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily

Lisa Steele’s chickens don’t get sick. Seriously. Other chicken keepers often don’t believe her. But it’s true. And she doesn’t use any extraordinary methods to keep them healthy—no antibiotics, no Blu Kote Antiseptic spray, no wormers, and no Vaseline on their combs (the fleshy growth on the crest on the top of the head). She doesn’t even regularly use homeopathic remedies; though she has quite a few in her pocket just in case, she generally doesn’t need them.

“You just have to keep them really healthy by using preventative care,” Steele explains. On the other hand, many chicken keepers just don’t think about giving their chickens a healthy living environment, she adds. People are constantly emailing her about their “sick” chickens, to which they’ve administered antibiotics or any number of other things, which, Steele says, likely make their chickens even sicker.

Steele gets tons of emails because she runs the popular blog and email newsletter, “Fresh Eggs Daily”; she has written two best-selling books—Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens...Naturally and Duck Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Ducks...Naturally; and she has an very engaged social media audience.

Steele enjoys and has made a living educating people on chicken and duck keeping, offering her followers non-traditional natural options for raising fowl. Throughout all her messaging is one key theme—take care of your chickens like you’d take care of yourself—always using clean, natural products and foods, give your fowl plenty of fresh air and space, and integrate healing herbs (that you grow) into their everyday existence.

“It’s a lifestyle,” Steele says. “And it has to become second nature. It comes down to choices—diet, environment, what you’re putting on your skin. Toxins build up in your body, and while they probably won’t kill you, they could make your quality of life suck. It’s the same with chickens… I’ll have people ask me, ‘can my chickens eat the stale box of Oreos I found in my cabinet?’ Those Oreos aren’t going to be immediately fatal, but when the toxins build up, at some point it will be too much.”

Just use common sense, she says. Illnesses aren’t actually that common in chickens if they eat well and have plenty of space. But, if chicken keepers don’t take care of their animals, problems abound.

“When things go bad, they go bad really fast,” Steele explains. “Chickens hide their symptoms. By the time you realize something’s wrong, it’s probably way too late. I have people who email me that their chickens are constantly sick. If you don’t do it right, they will be sick.” She advises chicken keepers to keep a close flock and to not buy and introduce random chickens. And she doesn’t let just any chicken keeper visit her farm either. “There are just all kinds of infection diseases floating around out there.”

And, she emphasizes, if they do have problems, use natural products to heal the injuries or illnesses instead of chemicals. For example, she prefers organic skin care to skin care products made with petrolatum jelly, a byproduct of petroleum.

“Buy Green Goo Animal First Aid and slather that on your chicken’s comb instead, and then you can also use it on yourself or on your dog if he gets a tick bite,” Steele says. “Petroleum-based products just aren’t super healthy!”

In fact, petrolatum-based products do nothing to nourish the skin, and studies have shown they can be harmful. One study done in 2011 links petrolatum and mineral oil to “Estrogen Dominance”—a condition where a person has too high levels of estrogen and too low levels of progesterone. Chemicals that cause this condition include xenoestrogens; petrolatum-based products are classified as xenoestrogens. As well, an Environmental Working Group study found 22 percent of all cosmetics may be contaminated with cancer-causing impurities.

Additionally, petrolatum-products are considered “occlusive” agents, which means they seal the skin off from anything getting in or out, including moisture. A 2000 American Academy of Pediatrics study found the use of topical petrolatum ointment on low-birth-weight infants caused an increased risk for systemic candidiasis. Petrolatum-based products create a warmer, moist environment. They don’t let your skin breathe.

So how do these studies translate to your chickens? If a product isn’t going to heal a person’s skin, it’s not likely going to heal your chicken’s skin. And if it’s harmful to a person, it’s likely also harmful to chickens. So it’s just common sense to use products that actually promote healing.

“We raise our animals naturally,” Steele says. “We have dogs and a cat; I don’t put flea medicine on the backs of their heads because I think it’s gross to apply chemicals to your animals. And it becomes even more important with chickens because we are eating their eggs; we’re actually eating something they’re producing. People ask me if I think this is a better way to raise chickens. If I thought there were a better way, I would be doing it.”

Stay tuned for the second installment of "Fur & Feathers: Natural Chicken Keeping--An Interview with Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily," where we’ll discuss the benefits of adding herbs to chicken feed and more. Photos by Steve Fassbinder of Stacie, Thad and Hazel Ferrell of Durango, Colo.